Trip Report: Four State Challenge Re-Run - can't wait to do this as out and back

Posted by Mignote on

A year ago I thought 20 miles in a single day is insane, and I could not imagine myself going on this trip let alone organizing it. As Michael put it, "44 miles in a single day of backpacking is, by any measure, a lot, and you'd have to be a bit crazy not to feel some trepidation starting off on a trip like this one. "

My plan was to leave the DC area at 1PM and stash water at Wolfsville Rd and get to PenMar by 3pm to meet with our shuttle Mark(Strings) and head for the Loudon Heights trailhead. Well, for some days plans are not meant to work out at all. I had zPizza packed in the cooler Turbo brought the beer and we headed out to Wolfsville Rd at 1:20 after I picked Turbo from Twinbrook metro. After 10 min driving on 270, we got stuck in traffic. We were unable to do anything for almost 1hr but move forward with the slow traffic. Apparently there was an accident. Once traffic opened up and we called Strings to let him know we will be late we continued our journey listening to classic rock and talking about the Loudon Heights trail and Friday night camp ground. It was 3:40 when we arrived at PenMar after leaving the water at Wolfsville rd and few u-turns to find the correct route. While Turbo was changing Strings offered to go get ice, which we totally forgot to pick up somewhere.

We headed to Harpers Ferry at 4:15 debating whether we want to start at Loudon Heights or on the AT. Since I have not recovered from the MT trip, I didn't sleep well the previous night and I wanted to hit the trail by 2 or 2:30 on Saturday. I did not want to hike in the dark and get to camp late. I wanted the shortest, easiest possible way to get to camp. Now that our eta changed to 5:30 to 6 to Harpers Ferry due to additional traffic, we finally decided we should get off at WV-32 entrance to the AT and hike up to camp.

We hit the trail at 5:45 at the WV-32 crossing, after bidding Strings farewell. We both have vague memory of the camp ground but we both agreed we have to go about a mile after the Loudon heights trail junction (blue blaze). After a little more than what felt like a mile and half since the Loudon Heights junction we found a nice camp site with a fire pit, but I, for some reason, was convinced we have yet to hike in further. By then we have crossed VA twice according to Google map. Thus we hiked further on the AT for about 10 min and decided we should go back and camp by the camp site as nothing seemed familiar anymore. We turned back to the camp site (another u-turn) and settled for the night planning to wake up by 1:30 to hit the trail by 2 or no later than 2:30.

My alarm went off at 1:30 and I hardly got up to pack. We were able to hit the trail by 2:30. We managed not to get lost on the trail including the C&O. We had our breakfast on the C&O and laughed about the wrong right-turn from the previous trip that had caused us to revisit that trail section twice and kept going. When we went past Ed Garvey shelter it was still dark to the contrary of our last trip. We were hoping to get to Gathland before daylight and we made it there at 7:10. We stopped for breakfast and few a minutes break chatting how we ended up there around 10 the last time. Surprisingly we didn't need water here as our planned water point. We were only carrying 2.5 liter and we still had plenty, thanks to nice weather. I was already feeling a lot of pain on both calf and quads that I decided to take pain killers, fearing I may quit again. We decided we are making good time and we should keep the pace and left the park at 7:45. I was going slow on the steep uphills as usual but managed to go relatively fast on the flats and downhill. Except for few trail runners out of Gathland everything was asleep.

We wanted to get to the monument before noon and take a lunch break. We were not taking any breaks except on the 3 places where we decided to get water at relatively 10miles apart. We pressed on, enjoying the colorful fall morning passing White Rock to Dahlgren for a restroom break and reached the Washington Monuments at 11:18. We sat in the shade had lunch and filled our water from the spigot. We watched Boy Scouts thinking how heavy their pack is and some other people going on the trail.

We headed out of the park at 11:50 heading to I70 thinking how many trucks I can signal to honk from the bridge (curtesy to Jen who had me addicted to it). This being the longest of our section which is about 12 miles with Annapolis rocks uphill and the rocky downhill to Wolfsville Rd, I knew I will slow down a bit but I was still hopeful that we will make it by 4pm to our last water point. Trevor picking up trash from the trail every now and then saying hello to fellow hikers and trail runners we reached the bridge to find no trucks passing. Just when I was going to sadly give up I saw a truck coming and started signaling for the honk which came out right when the truck reached the bridge. After doing the same thing to one other truck and making sure there are none on the road we headed to Annapolis rocks. We went past Annapolis rocks after what seemed like never ending uphill to the nice flat section of the trail. The trail was crowded by other hikers and trail runners. Some were nice enough to return our greetings few were not interested. My muscle pain started again when the pain killer wore off and I had to take few more hoping it will not wear off before raven's rock. We went past the downhill to Wolfsville road and refilled our water at 3:38 and went up the shelter to take our last break unless we hit high rock in time for sunset. We met a guy at the shelter making dinner and enjoying his music by a camp fire. A couple came looking for water and we told them they can use the water we left behind. We offered another couples who were looking for water to use it too as the stream was dry.

We headed out of the shelter at 4:30 with slower speed as we started the ascent but quickly sped up once we hit the flats. Enjoying the meadows and cows and the beautiful color of the woods beyond the meadow, we kept going to reach Ravens rock and the downhill after High Rock before dark. I was so excited to go past Ravens rock before dark but I was too tired to keep a good pace on the winding uphills from then to high rock which eventually made me realize I'm going to hike the worst part in the dark. Too stubbornly I moved as fast as I can for too long after the sun down without a head lamp. I gave up in the end and decided to use my headlamp right before high rock overlook junction. From here on I stopped thinking about time as the rocky down hill in the dark and the rough trail afterward gave us a tough time. We started chatting about how to do this trip as an out and back to make two 40 mile days. We even went through the logistics and lightening up to make jogging easier. Exhausted and mentally challenged by a never-ending rocky trail to Pen Mar, we finally reached the Mason-Dixon line after 17hrs and 40 min. I thought I would be filled with joy but all I got honestly was desperation. We logged our time chatted with a couple who were looking for camp ground and went to the car for the long waited beer and cold pizza. We headed to the place we camped last time enjoyed our meals celebrated the triumph and headed to sleep happy about the additional hour from daylight saving.


Michael Martin posted on

Nice trip report! And congratulations on your accomplishment!

Trevor Lowing posted on

Overall this trip was very smooth. The weather was absolutely perfect. Doing the 10 miles/water worked very well (Garland, Washington & Wolvesville). It allowed us the option to carry less water. It hotter weather that way not work as well but even then 2-3L /10 miles is usually sufficient.

For me the change in backpack made a huge difference. The new pack distributes the weight to my hips better and my back never hurt. I still had some residual foot pain from the previous week's trip though.

We think doing a double-challenge is very doable. Some of the issues to iron out:

[+] Resupply after first night from cars of those not doing two day. Maybe preplan and carry a spare key to the car with the stashed supplies

[+] Getting in early enough friday to get some rest/sleep before the return trip start, early the next morning.

[+] Double-group people head from Pen-Mar south will probably be unsupported.

[+] Equipment adjustments to allow for faster travel/jogging (light packs, light food and bivy sack in lieu of tent)

Other thoughts?

Hua Davis posted on

WOW!!! A lovely written trip report. It was quit of a journey!! I am Soooo happy you guys made it through safe and sound[:D]

Dave MacLuskie posted on

Congrats on the finish!

Regarding the double, which seems much more plausible while I sit here at my desk, I'd argue that there shouldn't be a need to resupply for a 2 day trip. In my mind carrying it should be part of the challenge. (I never used the dinners, pot, stove, or fuel that I carried last time!) I think caching water is still important if the creeks aren't running though.

I think I'd try to go lighter as well, more like what Michael and Joffrey did. I intended to bring my smaller pack but it doesn't transfer weight as well and I wanted to be able to comfortably carry more water. Plus with the rain situation on the trip I went on I found it harder to skimp on things. I fear I'll feel the same way on a double.

Michael Martin posted on

I'm afraid a re-supply would be cheating. :)

Mignote posted on

Well in a way of stashing water somewhere is not consider cheating I don't see why re-supply would be so long as it is only food items. Re-supply is a common backpacking practice more so than stashing water as I understand it, I may be wrong. However, as Dave put it if the base wsit went down significantly may be another day worth of food won't be too much load :).

Joffrey Peters posted on

I don't think a resupply should be part of a double... Then again, I didn't use the water cache this year.

Michael Martin posted on

I don't know. We've actually never cached before. Dave imported that practice from the ultra-running community. Justifiably, I think. Evan has remarked that, given the dryness of some of those ridges, caching isn't unreasonable, in certain seasons.

I suppose it doesn't matter so much, as long as you footnote what you're doing, so that latter generations can one-up you. ;)

Eating pizza at the end is probably (permissible) cheating, too. Yet I didn't observe anyone having their Mountain Houses. ;) I know I didn't.

Dave MacLuskie posted on

Ironically I think I carried more water weight with the cache's than I would have otherwise. After a water stop I usually walked way with 3 liters (6+ pounds). The only cache I used was the one at my car (mile 34?) but since I finished with more water than I needed I probably could have bypassed it and made it to the Raven Rocks shelter (was it's spring working?). There ended up being a sufficient number of taps working early on and the cooler temps helped a lot too.

Having run dry before and knowing how poorly I perform while dehydrated I prefer to err on the side of a little too much water. I'm not as tolerant with just cameling up as some of you.

I suspect there isn't a need to cache in a spring or early summer attempt.